Quite simply, Chinese medicine is a broad term that encompasses a medical and health care system that originated over 2500 years ago. It is the oldest continually practiced medical system in the world, and is still widely used in modern China. Chinese medicine is constantly integrating new knowledge and experience (for example, Western sciences and research) into its theory and practical applications. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are the most predominant and well-known components of the system, which also includes moxibustion, dietary therapy, massage and exercise.
Chinese medicine originated and developed into a highly detailed, organized and integrated system when technology was minimal and people’s connection with and dependence on the natural environment was essential. Because of this, it developed some very important attributes that benefit us tremendously in our modern era. The exploration of this development is important in understanding Chinese medicine and its terminology.
Firstly, because Chinese medicine did not have the luxury (or hindrance) of sophisticated diagnostic technology, a very detailed system of observation and correspondences within the body was developed. Seemingly insignificant signs and symptoms that make little sense to the average modern Western practitioner can have profound meaning in Chinese medicine. For example, slight differences in the quality of sleep, elimination, digestion, emotional activity, temperature and sweat in different regions of the body all have significance in diagnosing underlying pathologies. Before reliance on modern imaging techniques and laboratory tests, doctors also developed ways of assessing the health of the whole body through observing the tongue and palpating the pulse and abdomen. These seemingly basic procedures can elicit very detailed information in relation to the patient and his/her imbalances in the disease process.